Tonight, the Raiders and Vikings kick off their respective preseasons at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Both teams, coming off of disappointing 2013 campaigns, are looking to get their 2014’s off to a good pace by putting together a solid preseason, where they will be looking to see exactly what they have in their promising rookie quarterbacks.
The Raiders and Vikings aren’t exactly rivals, but this game should bring back some good memories for anyone who is old enough to remember the 70’s, or for youngsters like me who are just old enough to remember watching 70’s Raider highlights on NFL Films videos as a kid. The two teams have met 13 times in the regular season, with the Raiders dominating the all-time regular season series 9-4. The two teams also met once in postseason: January 9, 1977, in Pasadena, CA. Super Bowl XI.
In 1976, the John Madden-led Raiders were one of the best teams in the league, having posted the second-best winning percentage of any team in the NFL since 1969, when Madden took over. The league’s best winning percentage in the league during that period belonged to Bud Grant’s Minnesota Vikings, who had been to – and lost – three previous Super Bowls. During the 1976 regular season, the Raiders posted the league’s best record at 13-1. The offense was led by crafty left-hander Ken “The Snake” Stabler who had completed 66.7% of his passes and thrown 27 touchdowns during the regular season. He threw to a capable group of receivers including future Hall of Famers Fred Biletnikoff and Dave Casper as well as the league’s leader in touchdown receptions that year, speedster Cliff Branch. The offensive line was anchored by future Hall of Famers Art Shell and Gene Upshaw. The Raider defense, which had earned a reputation as one of the nastiest – and dirtiest – in the league, was anchored by future Hall of Famers Ted Hendricks at linebacker and Willie Brown at cornerback, as well as hard-hitting safety duo Jack “The Assassin” Tatum and George “Dr. Death” Atkinson.
The Vikings had established themselves as the perennial team to beat in the NFC under Bud Grant, and in 1976 were conference champs for the third time in four years. Their offense was led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton,who was league’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns at the time. Their defense was one of the best the league had ever seen, and was nicknamed the “Purple People Eaters.” The defensive line featured future Hall of Famers Alan Page and Carl Eller, as well as two-time Pro Bowler and NFL ironman Jim Marshall.
The game was an opportunity for the Vikings to get over the hump, having lost three Super Bowls already in the brief history of the game. The Raiders had been to the Super Bowl once before, losing Super Bowl II to the Packers. Since Madden’s tenure began, the Raiders had lost four AFC Championship games and one AFL Championship game. Their win in the 1976 AFC Championship was their fourth consecutive conference championship appearance after three straight losses.
The Raiders started off well on offense, but special teams miscues hurt them early: a missed 29 yard field goal by Erroll Mann nullified the team’s impressive opening drive, and a rare block of a Ray Guy punt set the Vikings up for an early score – potentially their first first-half touchdown in a Super Bowl, ever. Raider linebacker – and Hall of Fame interviewee – Phil Villapiano forced a fumble at the goal line, setting up a 90 yard Raider drive that resulted in a field goal early in the 2nd quarter. The Raiders went on to dominate the quarter, scoring two more touchdowns before the half, and going into the locker room with a 16-0 advantage.
After a slow start in the second half, the Raiders increased their lead to 19-0 late in the third quarter, only to have the Vikings come back and narrow the gap to 19-7. Then the Raiders defense took over: an interception by linebacker Willie Hall gave the Raiders the ball at midfield, and after a 48-yard catch and run by Biletnikoff, the Raiders scored a rushing touchdown to take a 26-7 lead. On the next Vikings drive, future Hall of Famer Willie Brown intercepted another Tarkenton throw and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown on the game’s most memorable play and famous call. The Vikings scored a late TD, but it was too little, too late: the Oakland Raiders won their first ever Super Bowl title by a score of 32-14.
The Raiders would go on two win two more Super Bowl titles in 1980 and 1983 under head coach Tom Flores, while the Vikings have never returned to the Super Bowl. After a failed Super Bowl run in 2002, the Raiders have been absent from the playoffs for eleven consecutive seasons, losing ten or more games nine times. Raider fans know what this team has been through in recent years. The Vikings have been up and down since the 1990’s: in 1998 they went 15-1, only to lose the NFC Championship game on a heartbreaking missed field goal. They have struggled to find consistency ever since, and haven’t managed to find a franchise quarterback to add a consistent passing dimension to an offense that includes sure-fire Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson. Both teams drafted quarterbacks this year that they hope can develop into their franchise QB’s of the future, and both those quarterbacks will likely see a lot of action in tonight’s game. Two proud, once-mighty franchises who once faced each other on the game’s biggest stage will be looking to start their comebacks tonight in Minneapolis.